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Shakur Entourage Mum on Shooting

Violence: Police say no witnesses will tell them details of the incident. Doctors remove rapper's right lung.

September 10, 1996|FRANK WILLIAMS and SHAWN HUBLER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LAS VEGAS — Witnesses to the weekend drive-by shooting of gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur retreated Monday into the stony silence of real-life gangs as surgeons removed the recording artist's bullet-riddled right lung.

The situation--of musicians adopting the pose of criminals, of life imitating a violent art--left police deeply frustrated amid a dearth of leads in the Saturday night attack.

"No one is telling us anything," said Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Sgt. Kevin Manning.

Most closed-mouthed of all, Manning said, was the entourage with whom Shakur was traveling. He was riding in a black BMW 750 that was sprayed with bullets from a white Cadillac in the next lane.

The BMW, driven by Marion "Suge" Knight, head of the controversial Los Angeles-based Death Row Records, was part of a convoy of six to 15 vehicles cruising to Knight's nightclub after the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon heavyweight fight. The 11:15 p.m. shooting occurred at a red light on one of the city's busiest thoroughfares, Flamingo Road, just off the glittering Las Vegas Strip, before hundreds of witnesses.

And yet, police said, no one in or outside any of the cars has so far recalled anything of substance about the incident--a coincidence that has led detectives to suspect that Shakur's friends "are not being 100% candid with us," Manning said.

There is even disagreement on whether the gunman's car had California or Nevada plates. "They didn't see it coming and they didn't see it going," the homicide sergeant said disgustedly.

Shakur remained in critical condition at University Medical Center, where a hospital spokesman described his injuries as severe. Shakur, who was in the passenger seat of Knight's BMW, was shot four times, at least twice in the chest.

Hospital spokesman Dale Pugh said the still-unconscious Shakur is likely to survive. But, he said, Shakur's torso--on which the words "thug life" are tattooed--was so badly punctured by bullets that surgeons had to remove one lung.

Criminal-style antics have been a hallmark of Death Row Records, which specializes in the harsh and profane art of gangsta rap, and have in fact served as an occasional publicity gimmick, buttressing the label's image as a haven for rebels.

Less than two years ago, Shakur was shot five times in a robbery in the lobby of a New York recording studio while awaiting trial on charges that he had sexually abused a fan.

Knight, a flamboyant former football star from Compton who attended the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, has been accused in court documents of once threatening another record executive with baseball bats and pipes in order to get a rap star released from a contract so the rapper could sign with Death Row.

Among the many jewels with which Knight habitually decks his 315-pound frame is a diamond-and-ruby ring that spells MOB, an acronym that, according to his fans, stands either for Member of Bloods (his neighborhood street gang), "Money Over Bitches" (his motto) or just "mob" (as in the Mafia).

Acquaintances of Shakur originally said Saturday's shooting may have stemmed from a confrontation earlier in the evening between people in Shakur and Knight's entourage and another group of men. At least one member of Shakur's circle said the group was affiliated with the Crips, a long-standing rival of the Bloods.

Gang shootings often inhibit witnesses, who may fear retaliation if they talk to the police. But authorities said the few people they had been able to question told them there had been no such confrontation--not even over Knight's regular seats at the boxing ring, which he often finds occupied because he usually arrives late.

Manning said the secrecy of the witnesses had stymied his investigation. Adding to the problems, he said, Knight, who was alone with Shakur when the shooting began, has disappeared without giving a statement to police.

Manning said the record executive was accompanied by police when he went to the hospital shortly after the shooting to be treated for a head wound from flying bullet fragments and shards of glass. But, Manning said, police were unable to question him while he was being treated, and after his release, they were unable to locate him.

On Monday, acquaintances of Knight placed him variously in Los Angeles at his record company or in Las Vegas, where he owns a home down the street from boxer Tyson's house.

Police said Knight's lawyer, David Kenner, has promised to bring him in today. Kenner did not respond Monday to repeated requests for comment.

UCLA lung specialist Dr. Donald Tashkin said losing a lung would probably not severely inhibit a man of Shakur's health and age.

"A young person who has relatively normal lung function tolerates the removal of one lung quite well," Tashkin said. "Sometimes it's difficult to tell whether you've lost a lung after surgery because the other lung compensates."

Backstage at the Soul Train Lady of Soul awards in Santa Monica on Monday night, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said he hoped the violence glorified in many rap records ebbs.

"We need to take away the romance from it and a have the capacity to resolve conflict without destruction," he said.

Jackson, who was to be an awards presenter, had been in Las Vegas for the fight and stayed to console Shakur's family.

"This eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth mentality will leave a lot of us people blind and a lot of us dead," he said.

Times staff writer Ed Boyer contributed to this story.

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